What Does Mindful Mean?

Something interesting popped up on Twitter recently which got me thinking about the way I’m using a certain word, and the way I’m thinking about a certain concept: ‘mindfulness’. On the surface it’s a really useful word, capturing in three neat syllables the entire idea of paying more attention to one’s surroundings, the moment you find yourself in, and everything else in between. There’s mindful walking, mindful eating, I’ve even heard of mindful brushing of teeth - and it’s all useful stuff, or at least it can be.

Recently, on Twitter, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (or someone acting on his behalf) posted a message advocating the mindful appreciation of a sunrise.

When you contemplate the big, full sunrise, the more mindful & concentrated you are, the more the beauty of the sunrise is revealed to you.

OK – so far so fridge magnet; what could possibly be wrong with that you might think. But another Buddhist monk took issue with the post, replying ‘Sounds to me like mindfulness would get in the way of the sunrise’.

Warner followed up with a blogpost explaining his take on the matter, and it makes for interesting reading. The crux of the argument is that the way in which Hanh uses ‘mindful’ speaks too neatly to the basest quick-fix, self-help instinct, and therefore actually works against its own cause. As Warner points out, there shouldn’t be room for admonition in this instruction; this isn’t about a right or wrong way of seeing.

It’s possible, of course, that Warner is misreading Hanh’s intention, or that Hanh’s intent was mistranslated by whomever tweeted it for him. Regardless, it’s added something to the way I think about ‘mindfulness’; I’ll let you know if it changes how I brush my teeth.